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‘A Dog’s Purpose’ – What parents need to know

I’ll admit that as an advocate of animal rights I was wary of seeing “A Dog’s Purpose” when I was invited to a free screening earlier this week at Regal Hollywood Stadium 20 & RPX. Ultimately, I wanted to see the movie so I could judge for myself, and I’m glad I did.

Based on the best-selling novel of the same title (which I haven’t read yet), “A Dog’s Purpose” is a simple character study of a dog (voiced wonderfully by Josh Gad) — the same dog that is born over and over again throughout the story as he questions his existence and purpose. The main doggie character is Bailey, a retriever who is rescued from the back of a hot pickup truck by a boy named Ethan (Bryce Gheisar) and his mom (Juliet Rylance). With Bailey by his side, Ethan grows from a boy into a young man (EJ Apa) who falls in love with a lovely young woman named Hannah (played by former Greenville resident Britt Robertson). Tragedy happens and eventually Bailey slips away and becomes Ellie, a German shepherd working for the Chicago Police Department with a sad and aloof handler. The dog also becomes a corgi named Tino and a Labrador retriever named Buddy, until ultimately, the dog realizes what his purpose is.

“A Dog’s Purpose” is rated PG and has been promoted as a family friendly movie. There is little profanity and couples do nothing more than kiss. However, there are some dark and violent themes throughout the movie that could upset sensitive children. A dog is captured by animal control and it’s implied he’s quickly euthanized. An abusive father mistreats his wife and son and threatens a dog. A dog has to be put to sleep by a veterinarian, surrounded by the family that loved him (this scene almost killed me). Another man kidnaps a little girl, throws her into rushing water, and shoots at police and K-9 officers. A neglectful owner chains her dog and another neglectful owner abandons a dog.

Basically, expect to cry repeatedly while watching “A Dog’s Purpose” if you have any empathy for animals whatsoever. There are some scenes that are just awful and make you want to sob. On the other hand, there are scenes that make you laugh and smile, especially if you've ever had a dog.

If you’re worried about the story being reincarnation propaganda, I wouldn’t put too much into it. It’s used as nothing more than a vehicle to tell multiple dog’s stories, and it works quite effectively.

The bottom line: “A Dog’s Purpose” has a beautiful message, and while it’s definitely sad at times, it’s also humorous and fun at times. I won’t get too much into the controversy surrounding the movie because I don't want to downplay what appears to have happened on the set. On the other hand, it’s a shame people will focus more on the negative surrounding this movie and less on the good. There are too few big-budget movies that promote clear messages about the importance of companionship from animals and that encourage empathy for them. And before the controversial video leaked, it was reported proceeds from the movie would benefit animal rescue groups.

If you’re willing to overlook the controversy, you’ll probably walk away thinking you’re glad you saw "A Dog's Purpose."

“A Dog’s Purpose” is now playing in theaters.